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  1. Athelas_H's Avatar
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    Out of the Literary Closet: A Tolkien Story

    The purpose of this thread is to publish, bit by bit, my story about Tolkien, his friendship with Mary Renault, and his suppressed bisexual desires. It is speculative fiction so please don't flame me, I'm being serious but also being creative at the same time. We don't know for sure if Tolkien really was or wasn't bisexual, but if he really was then he never would have expressed his desires physically. This story aims to delve into his psyche and contemplate his private speculated thoughts. Don't worry, there's no sex, it's all speculative. Please let me know if anything doesn't seem accurate; I want this to be a accurate, factually based, story. Enjoy :)

    Prologue

    He was gone, long gone. He was no longer welcome at their table.
    Why doesnt Carl come over for dinner anymore? asked his daughter, Priscilla.
    He moved away, was all her father had in answer.
    Whenever they went through the family photo album they missed his face. He disappeared from their lives. Priscilla would sit beside her father and ask about the missing photos: Who was in this photo? Why did you and mummy take it out?
    He would tell her that they were pictures of his long dead parents whose young and happy faces he no longer desired to see. They never met their grandparents. But in truth they were photos of him with the family. Edith burned them; she removed him from their life. All he had left with was memory and a hole in his heart. And his writing, his friend could only live on through his written words. He was everywhere in different characters. He wrote about him more than he did his wife.
    At night, he would finger his rosary beads and pray that they might meet again in Heaven. He prayed that their sins may be atoned and their souls renewed. But did his friend even believe in God? Ronald did not know. He prayed for his friends soul, that God would not see his love as sin. Jesus said to love your neighbour. And that was all he did: love. They were not the days of the Old Testament, of Sodom and Gomorrah. Everything was new, including love.


    Chapter One: The Professor

    It was Michaelmas Term, 1925, and Mary had just turned twenty. She was to start her first term at St Hughs College, Oxford. St Hughs was a college solely for women. Mary was to major in English. There was much division in the English department all throughout Oxford. The rift existed between English Language and English Literature. No reconciliation could be brought about, not until 1927 when the Professor stepped in.
    But for the present the rift existed. And the dry old English Classics were taught just as dryly as they had always been. No one, not even Mary, expected a revival. The English Classics were as dead as the failed fourteenth century alliterative revival.
    During the first week, no tutorials were held. Instead, an introductory lecture was given outlining what was to be taught that term and what was expected of such fine young women. Mary found this lecture dry and boring, but listened well for it was of importance.
    The next week tutorials began. Mary looked at her timetable. Her tutors name was Tolkien. How does one pronounce that name? she thought as she made her way to the tutorial room.
    He was a short man, this Tolkien, with a clean-shaven face and fair hair just beginning to recede. His voice was one that muttered and mumbled, but was deep and rolling at the same time. The students would have to get used to his way of speaking. He announced that his name was pronounced Tol-keen. Mary made a mental note of this.
    Since they were learning English Classics, the most natural place to start was with Beowulf. Mary liked the poem, the Dark Ages moved something hidden deep within her to what one could term joy. It was a mysterious, yet beautiful poem (a point that Tolkien made clear) and held a lovely primeval wildness in its alliterating lines.
    The Professor, as the students called him (his name being strange and foreign to some of the girls tongues), read out loud the first few lines of Beowulf. His pronunciation was perfect and clear, his voice as rolling as the green hills surrounding Oxford. To say that no student was moved would be a lie; something was stirred in every girls heart. Tolkien went on to discuss the importance of the poem in not just history, but art. And so it was an important piece of beautiful art penned by, perhaps, the great Heorrenda himself. That first tutorial opened a new chapter in Marys life: she was to be a writer.
    It was true that she had already begun writing her own stories, but nothing as ambitious as this novel that now formed itself in her imagination. It was to be set in the Early Medieval period, the Dark Ages. There would be gallant knights and duels; dragons and magic; princesses and romance. Beowulf and all else she studied with Tolkien set her imagination alight as nothing ever before had done.
    And so she set to work, creating her own Dark Ages world, page by page. She was an ambitious writer, creating entire landscapes and histories with just a few words or sentences. A single word could paint an image in the readers mind that would stay with them and would be shaped to fit their taste. That was, Tolkien taught, the free will of the reader.
    As the weeks went by, they read many more English Classics. Marys especial favourite was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. She loved the King Arthur stories even more than she loved Beowulf. King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table were a shining light in a world so often portrayed as dark and primitive.  
    Even if you're only a boy you can fight like a girl. ~ EA <X3

  2. Athelas_H's Avatar
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    Sorry for the mistake (should have done more research) but Tolkien didn't move to Oxford until the beginning of 1926, not 1925. So that means the above is out a few months.

    Here's part two of Chapter One: The Professor:

    She made few friends, but the dearest of these was Kasia Abbott. Years later they would often reminisce on their St Hugh’s days and ‘darling’ Tolkien. The Professor made a big impact on these two young woman; he inspired something deep within their souls, a desire to learn. This was well thought of by Tolkien who was sympathetic to female undergraduates, believing they had as much reason to learn as men. He would often invite his students, male and female, to his house to give private extra tutoring. One such day, Mary was admitted to his house.
    At the time, Tolkien lived at 20 Northmoor Road. He had lived there since his removal from Leeds at the start of 1926 with his wife, Edith, and his three boys, John, Michael, and Christopher.
    It was a sunny, yet cool, spring day as Mary walked to the Tolkien’s house. It was about four in the afternoon; she had finished classes for the day and was on her way to a private tutorial with the Professor. As she entered the cottage garden, Mary noticed Tolkien tending to his roses. They were beautiful pastel pink blooms and their sweet fragrance filled the air.
    ‘Hello, sir,’ said Mary to her tutor.
    ‘Mary, good to see you,’ he replied. ‘Shall we make our way to the study?’
    Tolkien led Mary inside. They walked down the hallway to Tolkien’s study. Mary had often thought it important for an academic or writer to have their own room to write in. It was not until 1928 when she attended Virginia Woolf’s lecture entitled A Room of One’s Own that she realised this importance, especially for the female writer. It was many years before Mary was able to have a room of her own and five hundred pounds a year. During the interim, she worked as a nurse where she met her lover Julie Mullard. At that point in time, Mary was not consciously aware of her sexuality but if the question were put to her she would proudly identify herself as ‘bisexual’. ‘Lesbian’ was not commonly used back then to denote female homosexuals.
    ‘How are your roses growing?’ Mary asked, making conversation as they walked to the study.
    ‘Fine, except for the fact that a devilish cat keeps on urinating and defecating on them. In my opinion, cats are the fauna of, well, never mind.’
    Tolkien led Mary into the study and offered her a spare chair by the desk. They had just set to their discussion when there was a knock at the door.
    ‘Come in,’ said the Professor.
    The door opened revealing a beautiful young woman. She was pale and delicate, with raven hair pulled back into a plaited bun and sparkling grey eyes. She had to be the Professor’s wife.
    ‘I hope I am not disturbing you, Ronald, but I was wondering if you and your student would like some tea?’ she said.
    Tolkien introduced them to each other. Edith left the room to get tea.
    ‘Your wife is very pretty,’ said Mary. Indeed a blush was settling on her cheeks, as pale as the pink roses outside.
    Last edited by Athelas_H; 14/Jan/2017 at 04:38 AM.
    Even if you're only a boy you can fight like a girl. ~ EA <X3

  3. Athelas_H's Avatar
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    Sorry again, there is a mistake in the above passage, I thought that Woolf gave her lecture at Oxford, but it was actually Cambridge so Renault can't have been there. She rather read it when published in 1929.

    Not long later, Edith came in with the tea. She had also provided some delicious scones with jam and cream. Mary thanked her. Edith smiled at the young student and left them to their work. The poems they were discussing that afternoon were Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the alliterative Morte Arthure, both of them being Middle English works. The authors of both poems were unknown, but whoever they were they were certainly Heorrendas of their generation. The poems were written as an attempt to revive the ancient poetic metre of alliterative verse, made popular by the Anglo-Saxons in the Dark Ages. But since the Norman invasion in 1066, alliterative verse declined, went out of fashion, and disappeared until this attempted fourteenth century revival. It was only an attempt, doomed to fail. Tolkien himself tried also to revive the ancient metre, but at this point in time it is too soon to say if he had prevailed or failed. He wrote many alliterative poems including the unfinished The Lay of the Children of Hrin that he worked on while at Leeds. He also translated Sir Gawain, making it more accessible to the current generation.
    However, Mary was not discussing Tolkien’s translation. She was studying the original Middle English version with the help of notes. It began:

    Sien e sege and e assaut watz sesed at Troye,
    e borȝ brittened and brent to brondeȝ and askez,
    e tulk at e trammes of tresoun er wroȝt
    watz tried for his tricherie, e trewest on erthe:
    hit watz Ennias e athel, and his highe kynde,
    at sien depreced prouinces, and patrounes bicome
    welneȝe of al e wele in e west iles.

    When the siege and the assault had ceased at Troy,
    and the fortress fell in flame to firebands and ashes,
    the traitor who the contrivance of treason there fashioned
    was tried for his treachery, the most true upon earth—
    it was Ӕneas the noble and his renowned kindred
    who then laid under them lands, and lords became
    of well-nigh all the wealth in the Western Isles.

    (From Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, Sir Orfeo translated by J.R.R. Tolkien.)

    She had not read Tolkien’s translation, but had heard him talk about it. It was not until 1975 that it was published for public reading, two years after Tolkien’s death.
    As they talked they sipped their tea and nibbled their scones. There were hidden themes in the poem; Mary brought this up: ‘Do you think that Sir Gawain blurs the line between homosociality and homosexuality?’
    ‘Well, that is something I had never thought of,’ he replied. ‘I think that the poet was trying to reinforce heterosexuality in a time when the Church was beginning to frown upon homoerotic male friendships and kissing between two men.’
    Mary pondered this. Was her questioning too controversial to be discussing with the Professor? At this point in time she did not know. She had put her finger in it, as Tolkien writes in The Lord of the Rings, but she quickly took the Ring off lest she should give herself away to Sauron and the Nine. There was an awkwardness in the room that could not be dispelled. Both fell silent. There cups were empty and it seemed that the tutoring was finished for the day. Mary looked at her watch; it was after five/six o’clock. She peered out the window to see that last rays of the sun as she set beyond the circles of the world.
    She stood up and took her leave, shook her tutor’s hand, and was led out by him into the front garden. As she walked down the garden path, literally, Mary thought about her sexuality and what had nearly come to light in Tolkien’s study. Was she really attracted to women? She did not know for sure; she was in the exploration phase, but she was yet to physically explore. It was not conceivable that friendship was possible between females and she wondered if it were possible to have something more tangible such as love. Yes, she had a friend in Kasia, but it was nothing more than that, if that were even possible for two women. She believed it was; attitudes had to change; women were as much capable of friendship as men. But she lived in a time where women had only just received the vote and were still not men’s equals.
    When she got back to the college, Mary decided to read some Sappho to dispel her anxieties. She lay in bed and read:

    Since I have cast my lot, please, golden-crowned
    Aphrodite, let me win this round!

    And so she prayed silently to the Greek goddess of love to show her the way, to show her the light in the dark. She did not truly believe that Aphrodite was real and that she heard Mary’s prayer, but even so she prayed. Mary had never really been much of a religious girl. She had grown up attending church, but now she pushed it aside, it being another set of questions in her life. If any were to identify her beliefs, one would probably say she was Agnostic. Her sexual desires conflicted with what she had been taught about love at church. But when she had read the Bible there was nothing in there, no commandments demonising love between two women. Yes, there was Sodom and Gomorrah, but it was vague and what did the text mean by ‘knowing’? And there were Paul’s letters denouncing homosexuality, but who was he but a sexist misogynist? We must remember, she thought, that the Bible was written by men. That was the academic in her thinking.
    She finished reading and pondering all the questions flooding her mind, turned off the light, and settled down under the sheets. She closed her eyes, but the questions became images. Eventually, after such a busy, questioning day, she fell asleep.
    Last edited by Athelas_H; 16/Jan/2017 at 06:51 AM.
    Even if you're only a boy you can fight like a girl. ~ EA <X3

  4. Athelas_H's Avatar
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    #4
    This story is taking on its own life and growing bigger by the word. It no longer just focuses on Tolkien's supressed sexuality; it's more than that. Here's part of the next chapter:

    Chapter Two: Jack

    It was Tuesday 11 May 1926, to be exact, and Tolkien was the still new Professor of Anglo-Saxon. As stated earlier, there was at that time much division in the English Language and Literature department at Oxford. This, among other faculty matters, was to be discussed at an ‘English Tea’ at Tolkien’s own Merton College.
    Among the faculty members, Tolkien met a man as new as himself called Clive Staples Lewis, known affectionately as Jack. He was a large built man with dark hair and dark eyes that were very expressive, despite their colour—sorrow and anger smouldered in them. His voice was deep and booming.
    ‘You must be Professor Tolkien,’ said Jack. ‘Did I pronounce your name correctly?’
    ‘It is Tol-keen,’ replied Tolkien. ‘I am used to people mispronouncing it all the time. Just imagine the commotion for my students. Most people call me Ronald, but my students call me the Professor.’
    They shook hands.
    ‘I like Tolkien,’ replied Jack. ‘It’s different. Most people call me Jack.’
    They worked in the same faculty, but seemed to have little in common. The division came up and they were set against each other. Tolkien was all for teaching English Classics, mostly from the Dark Ages to Chaucer, but was willing to venture into the nineteenth century (1830 to be exact) as long as students who wanted to study earlier works got the chance to turn aside and do so. He also wanted Old Norse literature included in the earlier works. Jack was heavily opposed to this and when it came to a vote later on, Jack voted against Tolkien’s proposed reforms. Jack was all for teaching later literature post-Chaucer including Spencer, Shakespeare, and Milton. That day, Jack wrote of Tolkien in his diary: ‘No harm in him: only needs a smack or so’. Despite all this opposition, they continued to associate and work together, eventually becoming friends.
    The two men could not have been more different. Tolkien was nearly ten years the senior, very much a child of the Victorian era, a devout Roman Catholic, and a happily married father of three boys. Jack was younger, born right at the turning point between the Victorian and Edwardian eras, a staunch Atheist, and having an affair with a divorced woman twice his age, as much as he liked to deny this.
    Even so, their friendship flourished. As this happened over the months and years, Jack began to take Tolkien’s side in relation to the reforms: the Professor had convinced him and it was perhaps their friendship that influenced the compromise.
    But what really influenced Jack’s opinion was the creation of the reading group called the Coalbiters in the spring term of 1926. It was started by Tolkien and its purpose was to read Old Icelandic sagas and myths, creating an interest in the more commonly unpopular literature of the North.
    The name Coalbiters came from the Old Norse (or Old Icelandic) Kolbtar. The meaning was in jest: ‘men who lounge so close to the fire in winter that they bite the coal’.
    Jack had always, since a young boy, had a fascination for all things ‘Northern’ including his love of the sagas and myths and even Wagner’s Ring cycle. But he had never before read the texts in their original language. Now that he had decided to join the Coalbiters, he was setting himself a challenge. He did not join straight away, it was not until January 1927 that he decided to attend. And he found it invigorating. The texts were in the original Old Norse and the purpose of the group was to translate on the spot and read out loud in Modern English. Jack did not know many Old Norse words, the language seemed so alien to him, but even so he gave the Coalbiters a go. He had the help of Zoga’s Old Icelandic dictionary; he had bought a copy especially for the Coalbiters.
    The other members of the Coalbiters were from various faculties and for many of them Old Norse was a new language and the North an unexplored region. It was a hard task for such members, but even so they took it seriously and worked hard. They would often on translate a paragraph or two at a time, while other members more knowledgeable in Old Norse would translate a page or more.
    The text they began translating was the Younger Edda, also known as the Prose Edda, written down by Snorri Sturluson in approximately 1220. Jack had read William Morris’ translation of the Vlsungasaga, but had never read a translation of Snorri’s work. He knew generally about it and what stories it contained from what he had read about Norse myth as a boy, but otherwise it was a new, unchartered text.
    As the moths passed by, they finished the Younger Edda and moved on to the great sagas. After they were done with the sagas their next goal was the Elder Edda, also known as the Poetic Edda. It begins with a call to poetic arms:

    Hljs bi ek allar
    helgar kindir,
    meiri ok minni
    mgu Heimdallar;
    viltu, at ek, Valfr!
    vel framtelja
    forn spjll fra,
    au er fremst um man.

    A hearing I ask of all holy offspring,
    the higher and lower of Heimdall’s brood.
    Do you want me, Corpse-father, to tally up well
    ancient tales of folk, from the first I recall?

    Jack felt the calling of the North deep within his soul. It brought him Joy, though it was fleeting. He had wondering often at this point in his life what this feeling of Joy meant and its importance in his life.

    Enjoy and let me know what you think :)
    Even if you're only a boy you can fight like a girl. ~ EA <X3

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